Traditional Printmaking as a Career


Can I make a living in traditional printmaking?

Answer by: Ramesh Prabhakar, Partner, Idea Creative Solutions

Traditional printmaking in photography is divided into two main sections—traditional silver gelatin printing and alternate printing processes. Silver gelatin printing is one of the most popular printing techniques, where photographs are printed from negatives, in a darkroom. It was invented by Richard Leach Maddox, in 1871. The process involves suspension of silver salts (silver bromide and silver chloride) coated in gelatin onto different substrates, like glass, baryta, or resin-coated paper. Later, the silver halide particles will be exposed to a light source through a negative, using an enlarger, to make a latent image on the paper. It is then put into a paper developer (Kodak D-72 is a popular print developer), to make the image visible. Once the photograph is developed, it will be put in a stop bath (simple water rinse), to halt or neutralise process. Then, it moves into the fixer (sodium thiosulphate), to wash away the unexposed silver halide particles. The prints will then be washed and dried at room temperature.

The most popular print forms are contact prints, which are used as reference thumbnail prints for future enlargement. Light plays an important role. The strength, temperature, and time, for which, the developer is allowed to act, enables the photographer to control the contrast of the final image. There are also alternate processes like caffenol, daguerreotype, cyanotype, etc. They involve replacement of photo developing chemicals with different chemicals, to attain various kinds of effects and tonalities in final prints. Alternative processes also involve non-light sensitive procedures using digital mediums.

Now, the question is whether we can make a living out of this? I don’t think so, unless you have a niche client base, since the process is more artistic, demands good skills, involves a lot of expensive chemicals and papers, which are not easily available in India. It makes the prints expensive, a luxury can be afforded by the niche, who prefer paintings over photographs, due to lack of awareness and non-acceptance of photography as an art form. In such circumstances, making a livelihood is difficult. But the good news is that times are changing, and so are the mindsets of people.